Help sheila conserve

Varian Arabians Ranch

Join us in the vision to honor iconic horsewoman Sheila Varian, who passed away in 2016 before her dream of conservation could come true. 

About Varian Arabians Ranch

Nestled in the hills of Highway 101 near the town of Arroyo Grande, CA, the 150-acre ranch was the birthplace of some of the best Arabian horses in the world. This is where child-prodigy then iconic horsewoman Sheila Varian revolutionized the Arabian horse breed and inspired countless equine enthusiasts for more than 60 years. Before Sheila passed away from cancer in 2016, she partnered with California Rangeland Trust to make a plan that would permanently conserve the property for use in agriculture or horse management.

Sheila was a pioneer who revolutionized the Arabian horse breed in America, carved a space for women in national equine competition, and inspired countless horse enthusiasts on her 150-acre ranch on the Central Coast of California. For over 60 years, she was a teacher, storyteller, and role model, all while being a real working cowgirl who lived a joy-filled life doing what she loved most.

Before Sheila passed in 2016, she partnered with California Rangeland Trust to make a plan that would permanently conserve the property for use in agriculture or horse management. This beautiful ranch in Arroyo Grande is in the heart of a growing winemaking region, but Sheila wanted to protect the character and beauty of this special place. She said, “I could not bear the thought of this place being broken up… Now all the animals that live here will be safe, and people will still be safe to visit here.”

The Central Coast region of California provides critical agricultural landscapes for ranching, farming, and winemaking, as well as restorative escapes from the cities where 90% of Californians spend their day-to-day lives. The managed grasslands and food production activities are also vital to keeping our air breathable by capturing and storing greenhouse gases in the healthy soil. But this land is high in value, and highly desirable for a growing population. Protecting the region now from unsustainable development is one of the most important gifts we can provide for future generations.

Per Sheila Varian’s wishes, proceeds from the sale of the Varian Arabians Ranch will go towards additional conservation of working lands throughout the Central Coast region of California. As the largest land trust in our state, California Rangeland Trust has earned the preference of private landowners who want to ensure their lands are available for agricultural use (and healthy soils stewardship) for future generations. 

What does the next chapter of the ranch look like?

The Varian Arabians Ranch property was recently sold. Click here to read the press release and learn about what the new owners have in store for the future, while honoring the history of the past. 

Unfortunately, the challenges brought on by the pandemic delayed many of our ambitious goals for the ranch. This included a joint campaign to raise the funds necessary for Cuesta College to acquire the property and convert it to a hands-on educational facility for agriculture and equine fields. As time wore on, and the ongoing effects of the pandemic continued to divert resources, the College ultimately concluded that the project was no longer attainable.

This was a heartbreaking decision for our partners at Cuesta College, and for us, too. The good news is that the College learned a lot about the needs of the agricultural profession and have increased their investment in ag and equine course offerings. A new program director is helping to oversee the advancements being made to their agriculture program. In addition, the Rangeland Trust remains committed to being long-term partners. We know that while we can conserve the land for future, it is equally vital to have people to properly steward these working lands.

Our attempts to see this ranch connected to an educational institution came from a desire to preserve Sheila’s legacy. We know now that she will always be connected to this land, to the people she inspired, to the remarkable horses she helped bring into this world, and to every little girl who persists in following her dreams. Long Live the V!